CLEARWATER — In 2006, the old AmSouth bank building was the centerpiece of Elias Jafif's $200 million plan to revitalize downtown.
Calling the project "Acqua at the Downtown Plaza," Jafif planned to repurpose the bank building and construct a 33-story condominium tower, a 10-screen movie theater and 35,000 square feet of retail space on the northeast corner of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue.
Six years later, none of that exists.
Now Moises Agami, like Jafif a developer and Scientologist from Mexico City making his first major foray into American real estate, has plans for the nine-story former bank and office building constructed in 1965.
Agami's plans are more modest — converting the vacant building into a 52-unit condo tower with retail and restaurant space on the first floor — but he has already had a bit of success filling some of the vacant storefronts along Cleveland Street.
For those skeptical about the health of the condo market, Agami points to sales data that he thinks show demand for exactly the kind of homes he wants to build: two bedroom and two bath condos, about 1,200 or 1,300 square feet, costing $300,000 to $350,000.
Agami, 32, is finalizing financing for his as-yet unnamed project and hopes to submit plans for city approval shortly. He wants to start marketing and taking reservations in early 2013, and to have his condos built by mid 2014.
"We saw an opportunity to really change the atmosphere in downtown Clearwater," Agami said Tuesday morning as he looked over artist renderings of the refurbished building. The plans call for a "metropolitan" design, Agami said, with floor-to-ceiling windows, Italian kitchens, and a rooftop garden common area complete with a gym, grills and hot tubs, all with expansive views of Clearwater Harbor.
(Agami does hope the city's old Harborview Center across the street eventually will be torn down, clearing the way for better views of the harbor for more of his condos and for diners on the first floor.)
The building will be stripped to the framework and rebuilt, Agami said, but there is one feature he wants to preserve: the vintage bank vault in the basement, which he envisions as the doorway to a man cave for residents, with a pool table, card table and wine cellar.
Agami is a self-described "very minority investor" in nearby Water's Edge Condominiums on the southwest corner of the same intersection, where he owns a unit. The recent demand for less expensive units in that tower is part of the reason Agami thinks his project will succeed.
According to Multiple Listing Service data Agami referred to, there were 983 condo units sold in Pinellas County in 2011 and the first six months of 2012, with 439 — 45 percent — sold in Clearwater.
Water's Edge has four units left, with the least expensive listed at $489,000. The Station Square condo tower on Cleveland Street is 85 percent sold out, with 21 units left for $180,000 to $350,000, according to Dave Traynor, vice president of Smith & Associates Real Estate, which oversees sales on both properties.
"His timing is great," Traynor said of Agami. "The size he's looking at and the price points seem to be what the public is looking for. … We're excited to hear more."
Bob Clifford, president of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, reacted with more cautious optimism to news of another developer interested in the AmSouth building.
"The property has been sitting there so long," Clifford said. "I hope it comes out of the ground, but the track record certainly has not been stellar to this point."
Agami's investor group also owns a vacant 1.7-acre parcel to the north of the AmSouth building, but development there depends on condo sales.
Agami has been successful in getting tenants into some of the adjacent Cleveland Street properties he manages, including an Italian clothing boutique under construction and the recently opened Capital Beer House.
Jafif is a partner in this project, but Agami is the CEO. Orlando-based project manager Mark Rieker, who was also involved with the Acqua plan, is on board again and has been meeting with Clearwater city officials to get feedback on preliminary plans.
"We like the gist of it, and we encouraged him to move forward," said Michael Delk, city planning director. "Hopefully, it'll make its way to the next level."
Staff writer Mike Brassfield and researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.